The Help looks at rules and norms governing gender in a Mississippi town in the early 1960s. White women are valued in society by their ability to produce children, who are then to be cared for by black women. Few jobs are available for women of both races. Black women are expected to be passive workhorses, and to sacrifice their own homes and family lives for those of their white employers. Through writing and storytelling, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny all dare to challenge the gender roles society sets up from them and receive greater fulfillment in the process. Their challenges are also steps toward an overall healthier community in many ways.
Questions About Gender
- Judging from the want ads that Skeeter looks at, how would you describe the job market for women in town? How would you describe the job opportunities for black women in town?
- How does Celia Foote challenge the definition of "woman" in Jackson? Why is it that Jackson's women have a problem with her, while Jackson's men don't?
- Why is Constantine Skeeter's biggest female role model?
- How do Charlotte's goals for Skeeter change over the course of the novel, in terms of her extreme desire for Skeeter to get married, pronto?
- How would you analyze Skeeter's relationship with her mother?
- Take the theme of gender and apply it to some of the men in the novel – say to Treelore, Stuart, or Johnny Foote. What are the roles and norms for men in that society? How do they differ depending on social and economic class?